Roberta Pinotti: Top Performance on a Shoestring

For Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti it is all about attaining economies of scale. Whilst EU member states spend over €226bn annually on their military and can field a million plus combat troops, a large chunk of the cash is wasted on competing programmes – often jealously guarded as national flagships – and multiple structures and processes that work alongside, rather than with, each other. Italy has been one of the principal drivers behind PESCO, the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation agreement which was launched in December as a first step towards the creation of an EU army.

“It took all of sixty years to get to this point. It is, however, encouraging that most EU countries now at last agree that close cooperation can no longer be postponed.” In office since early 2014, Mrs Pinotti has ordered an updated white paper to spell out and detail her country’s defence aims. All of the 23 nations that signed up for PESCO are expected to clearly outline their military priorities so that commonalities may be identified and programmes set up to meet demand more efficiently. The EU has freed €1.5bn for a European Defence Fund that is to underwrite research projects and coordinate procurement processes.

Italy boasts the EU’s third largest defence budget with outlays ascending to almost €34bn (1.1% of GDP) annually. The country squarely aims to up its military profile in the post-Brexit EU. That, however, necessitates a significant boost in defence spending and improved efficiency in the allocation of the available resources. Last year, Minister Pinotti secured €12bn in stopgap funding for bolstering the country’s military capabilities. A 2015 naval law already set aside €5bn for the building of a new class of littoral combat ships.

In a major shift, Italy last year adjusted its traditionally staunchly pro-NATO policy to one which attaches equal importance to both the transatlantic alliance and EU defence initiatives. Mrs Pinotti is particularly pleased that President Emmanuel Macron of France has now dropped his initial opposition to the takeover of the STX OSV (formerly Chantiers de l’Atlantique) naval yards in St Nazaire and Lorient by Italy’s Ficantieri, Europe’s largest shipbuilder with yards in the United States, Norway, Romania, Brazil, and Vietnam.

Representing the social-liberal Partito Democratico (PD), Mrs Pinotti must tread carefully in order not to offend those on the left of her who oppose any increase in defence spending. The PD was founded in 2007 with the merger of various progressive parties and coalitions and comprises, amongst others, remnants of Italy’s now defunct Communist Party. However, the recent influx of refugees in the hundreds of thousands has muted calls for further cuts in military expenditure.

Judging Italy’s efforts by spending metrics alone, paints a distorted picture. For domestic political reasons, parts of the country’s defence establishment are financed through other departments. That helps explain how Italy is able to sustain an apparently outsized 184-ship navy structured around two carrier groups, supplemented by three amphibious assault ships. Italy remains the foremost power in the Mediterranean and manages to do so on the proverbial shoestring. The country also maintains its various international commitments and keeps in excess of 7,000 military personnel stationed outside its borders. It is a performance few in the EU can equal.

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